Selecting a call sign

This post is a response to several Facebook group posts I’ve recently seen related to vanity call signs, and one asking for my specific opinion on them.

N1TA is a vanity. I selected it back when the vanity calls cost extra money (they are currently free) and it is my third one. Interestingly, I’ve applied for exactly three vanity calls in my entire life, only requesting a single call on the preference table each time. In all three cases, I got the call — even for N1TA, when there were several competing applications.

The process today is not so simple. Since applying is free, there are many more applicants. Getting the call you want is not easy anymore. There are plenty of resources, however. If you’re thinking of getting a vanity call, head to AE7Q’s website and read the entire site. Read every single page. Then read the forums. Then read everything a second time. Applications are rejected every day because the applicants were too lazy to first understand the process. Once you’ve read all there is on the subject, come back here.

But what makes a good call sign?

First and foremost: probably not your initials. I see these “initial call signs” all over the place. Most are 1×3’s, but the lucky few are 1×2’s. Very few of us have initials conducive to good suffixes. I’ve never been a fan of my initials, MD, in CW (although it’s OK on phone).

My selection criteria, as a contester, was low weight on CW and phone. TA accomplishes both. To determine this, I used the CW weight calculator from RadioQTH. If a call sign with MD had been available, it still would have been an unwise selection…

Call Sign Weight
TA 14
MD 20

I also prefer the N- prefix as it is shorter than K or W on CW…

Call Sign Weight
N 8
K 12
W 12

…but it lags behind on phone. “November” takes longer to say than “Kilo” or “Whiskey.” I was willing to compromise on that because the suffix was short and, after all, it was available.

I also decided to avoid call signs with characters ending with a single “dit.” For example, G, C, R, or E. Often, that last dit is lost in the noise.

My full set of requirements looked like:

  • Must be 1×2 (I’ve never liked 2×1 — just personal taste)
  • Preferably N, but would accept W or K
  • No trailing dit
  • Very small CW weight (fewer dah’s)

My tip for others is to think ahead. You might be blissfully enjoying repeaters or ragchew nets today, but your interests might change in five or ten years. Short calls work better for everything. Of course, you might be happy with your original sequential; there’s nothing wrong with that either! This is by and large a preference game, but I wanted to give some insight into my process.




Nick, K1NZ and I decided to make a serious multi-one effort in the SP DX Contest from the fine station of Dave, K1TTT. Little did we know just how much of an effort that would become. A combination of local WX and space WX made things a real mess. The station performed flawlessly, as is the hallmark of most operations at K1TTT, but it was a real struggle.

Dave had arranged, per our request, a somewhat experimental setup: configuring the station for SO2R but with the two-keyboard option in N1MM+. This would allow for two operators at any time while retaining the interlock features of SO2R. The left position could listen to left radio audio OR right radio audio OR both (one side in each ear), while the right position could only listen to the right radio audio and could only work CW. We couldn’t do any in-band work, so each radio was relegated to separate bands.

The journey to Dave’s place started early Saturday morning. I woke up around 6 local, looked out the window, and found that overnight a whole bunch of wet, slushy, heavy crap had fallen from the sky and coated everything. My own municipality hadn’t bothered to plow the roads — the thought of Dave’s wilderness QTH being accessible seemed in doubt. But I headed off anyway, and my first stop was just east to pick up K1NZ.

I drove through Springfield and Wilbraham — two larger cities here in WMA that should, by all right, have been plowed and sanded. They were not. There were several hairy maneuvers, especially one after leaving the K1NZ QTH that found us headed toward the shoulder with absolutely no control over the vehicle. I can’t believe it’s going to be the SP DX contest that kills me.

We made two necessary stops: the package store for Polish vodka (finding none, we settled on Mr. Boston and we were willing to pretend) and the Williamsburg General Store for Moxie, my contesting beverage of choice. These days, I can only find Moxie at that old general store, and the stop is now mandatory on our way to Dave’s.


It tastes like burnt root beer and dirt.

The roads were actually better when we finally reached the Berkshires. I attributed this to the elevation; at about 1000′ ASL, the conditions changed from ice/slush to fluffy snow, which is actually easier to drive in. We made it down Dave’s street with only minor slippage and had finally arrived.

Dave gave us a tutorial on the dual-keyboard setup, a configuration I’ve taken to calling Two Men One Mouse. He cautioned us that the right radio was really only useful for spotting on other bands, since transmitting required changing focus — an easy task when SO2R, but one requiring some coordination with two operators involved. We decided to ignore that recommendation and attempt dual CQ’s at several points during the contest. Did it work? We’re not sure. More on that later…


K1NZ prepares for a strange weekend

Immediately, 20 was wide open. 10 and 15, on the other hand, didn’t even qualify as existing. I managed a good run of SP’s on CW while Nick thumbed around a mostly-dead 15m band. Everything is OK; 40 will open soon and we can use both radios!

Shortly before local sunset, having heard nothing (literally nothing) on 10 or 15 but working all mults on 20, I started sweeping 40. Europe began slowly creeping in shortly thereafter, and I snagged a good run frequency and used the second VFO for the freshly renewed mult hunt. It was at this point we initially tried dueling CQ: Nick on 20 phone and me on 40 CW. We found that 20 had already died, despite our best efforts, and Europe was little more than a whisper. He worked a few MS and MO QSO Party participants just to try out the operating arrangement. We eventually got up to rhythm, but it was all for not, as yet again, we were down to one workable band.


K1NZ made pierogi in keeping with the SP -theme

Suddenly, it was as if someone had unplugged every antenna. I actually stopped my auto CQ and started checking SWR! I had heard the band go totally silent in a matter of minutes. Dave came down, saw the painful rate, and glanced over at another monitor in the shack.

“There’s your problem,” he said, “M-class flare!” Lo and behold, the SFI was way up and we finally had sunspots, but they came with an awful price tag: radio blackout from the flare. Since we were headed into the dark side, we knew the effects would be mitigated. We weren’t counting on another flare striking the SP’s in sunlight shortly thereafter, and a third slamming into us Sunday morning!


It’s not always a good thing when the numbers go up!

Rates plummeted. 40 never fully opened. The entire contest took place on 80, where we again managed to work all 16 multipliers. I threw out a few CQ’s on 160 but didn’t even get spotted by a single skimmer, an impressive feat from a station like K1TTT. Nick and I headed for bed just after EU sunrise, having exhausted 80. I’ll run EU on 15 in the morning!


My view from the bedroom window

Morning cracked early and I went back into the shack to scour 15 and 10 (insert laughing). The weather outside had drastically improved from the day before. The sun was out and the snow was even melting. The memo did not reach the propagation gods, however, and 15 never came around. I barely heard a PY working inaudible SP’s, but after a while even he admitted defeat.

We finished the contest short of 300 QSO’s. The two-keyboard SO2R feature is pretty slick for a single operator with a certain style, but not terribly useful for two operators. We never had much of a chance to really dig into it, since only one band was ever open at a time. It was handy to run on the left radio while Nick did S&P on the right, as I could listen to both radios in the left chair, I was able to help Nick pull out a few very weak multipliers on the right radio without leaving my run. I’d like to try it again on a much busier weekend.

Special thanks to Dave, K1TTT for the use of his FB station, and Nick, K1NZ, for making pierogi when things got slow. A very special thanks to Mr. Boston himself, who managed to help us through a 10 QSO hour on 40 — he’s the real MVP.

Call: WA1J
Operator(s): K1NZ N1TA
Station: K1TTT

Class: M/S HP
Operating Time (hrs):
Location: USA

Summary:   Compare Scores
Band CW Qs Ph Qs Mults
80: 37 9 16
40: 26 1 14
20: 150 62 16
Total: 213 72 46 Total Score 39,330

Worst conditions ever? Maybe…but it was fun anyway.

Revolutionary 160m antenna at N1TA

I remember it vividly. I was standing on the edge of my toilet hanging a contest plaque, the porcelain was wet, I slipped, hit my head on the sink, and when I came to I had a revelation. A vision…a picture in my head. A picture of this! This is what makes 160m possible from a city lot: the DX capacitor! It’s taken me nearly twenty years and my entire fortune (EDITOR: $300) to realize the vision of that day. Gosh, how has it been that long?


Basic design of the DX capacitor

The capacitor is easily constructed and inserted at the feedpoint of your series-fed vertical. The smaller the vertical, the better it will work. I constructed my prototype for less than $50 with parts I had in my junk drawer and I’ve already worked 160 Meter DXCC…twice. In a single month. No listening antenna required.


The prototype in use

Fair warning: the 1.21 gigawatt power supply was very, very difficult; I recommend consulting an experienced local ham and/or astrophysicist (what difference is there?) to help you with the construction. World events and global politics may severely impact your ability to complete this element of the project, so be sure to check ahead of time.


These angry OM’s chased us home from AES!

I’ve been attempting to bring these to market, but there seems to be little interest from DX Engineering and MFJ. Luckily, Dr. E. Brown Enterprises, located in the new Twin Pines Mall next to the Hill Valley HRO, has agreed to construct and market the device to the amateur market. Please contact them directly with sales and design questions.


Dr. Brown works out of a van

The next topband season is just around the corner, so don’t wait. Get started on your own DX capacitor today and work the world before you’re outatime!


Lower 15m beam slipped

It’s been windy here the past few days and the lower 15m beam seems to have slipped a bit when I checked antennas this afternoon. Luckily, it’s restricted by the tower face and can’t go too far so the feedline appears to be alright.


Low 4L15 spun by the wind

Why does this sort of thing happen? Because the tower leg is too thin for the existing U-bolts on the boom-to-mast plate. I should have drilled the plate for smaller U-bolts before raising the antenna and fixing it to the tower, but it was a few days before CQWW and I had run out of time. There’s little sense in repairing at this point, as this antenna will be taken down with the rest in anticipation of moving to a suitable QTH. I will probably climb up and use rope to secure it, simply to prevent pinwheeling.

This antenna (and the one up top) are homemade 15m monobanders using parts from Cushcraft 4L10’s. I needed minor extension in the elements (only a few inches each) and I extended the boom. I’ll post full details later, in case anyone else wants to try this conversion. They sit on a telescoping tower that is controllable from the shack so we can adjust spacing using a ground-mounted winch. This has been an interesting platform for experiments in stack design; at some point I’ll compile what we’ve learned.


The art of NOT QSL’ing

I dislike QSL cards. In fact, I’m of the opinion that they turn a thrilling weekend hobby into another day at the office, complete with all the excitement of filing, writing, record-keeping, and even accounting. I do all that stuff during the week; please don’t make me do it on the weekends too.

However, I recognize that others enjoy this part of the hobby and so I must occasionally participate. After all, it is a small price to pay when you consider how many of them bothered to work me in the last contest. Truth be told, it wasn’t that long ago I felt a flash of excitement when I got the brown envelope from the W1 bureau or – if it was a really good week – a direct card complete with SASE. Heck, I even sent a few of those. That feeling has dimmed somewhat for me.

I tend to think long profile biographies can become arrogant, especially so when they’re entirely committed to personal QSL information. However, given a recent surge of requests I’m receiving, I went ahead and made just that: an arrogant profile explaining exactly how to confirm your QSO with N1TA.

The average non-contest operator has little idea of the burden cards create. For example, we made 10,000 QSO’s in the past two months alone. If just a quarter of them send cards without SASE, that’s 2,500 envelopes at an average $0.50 postage each, that’s $1,250! That’s like donating a new radio to the USPS, and we haven’t even factored in printing costs or assigned a value to the labor cost.

Now figure this: in my experience, that figure above has been closer to half QSL rate than it is to a quarter, although this is admittedly decreasing as of late.

As I’m typing this, I see a card that reads “thanks for contest QSO…you are my third HF contact.” Obviously, I’ll return a card despite not receiving SASE in this case because I’m not a complete joyless monster.

So please, please, please: if you are a county hunter or are chasing some special award, consider using OQRS or just sending me an email. Save yourself the wasted card and save me the overhead. If you’re chasing DXCC, WAS, WPX, or VUCC, our QSO has likely already confirmed on Logbook of The World.

Let’s all try to modernize just a bit.



It was 0500 at the lonely 40m position. A very faint multiplier called and I struggled to work him. I summoned every bit of skill acquired over a nearly-twenty year contesting career to get him in the log. The multiplier: DL. That’s when I realized just how tough the conditions would be.


K1TTT’s 40m position doubles as SO2R station during smaller contests — (2) FT1000, (2) Acom 2000A

There were static crashes. There were frequency fights. There was power line noise. There were stack issues on 20m. Had we been at a lesser station, perhaps we would have been defeated. Luckily, we were at K1TTT’s place, where even the failures have to obey Dave’s rules. After all, he wrote the book on it…


Dave really did write the book on it.

I pulled the overnight on 40 the first night, until W1TO mercifully relieved me from a band that wasn’t doing much more than swallowing auto-CQ’s and spitting forth dupes. I spent the rest of the contest primarily on 40, although K1NZ managed time there as well.


K1NZ does a shift on a difficult 80m band

W1EQO spent the entire contest jumping between 160 and 10, and from the early score rumors, it looks like his effort was not in vain. Our total on 160 was almost deadlocked with K3LR, although one cannot overstate our geographic advantage there (but we’ll certainly accept those results).


W1EQO hard at work on 160m

Sunday, the contestmen produced an interesting result on the 20m stack. The individual antennas, when selected, presented disastrously high SWR. By the end of the contest, however, the scenario had reversed and the stacks presented a high SWR while the individual antenna selections were usable. I’ll let Dave explain the entire thing on his maintenance blog, but it was one for the ages. There was also a broadband power line problem that Dave managed to fix; apparently he’s dealt with this type of thing once or twice.

Call: N1TA
Station: K1TTT

Class: M/M HP
Operating Time (hrs): 48
Location: USA

Band QSOs Mults
160: 74 40
80: 296 70
40: 555 93
20: 1856 108
15: 312 66
10: 187 26
Total: 3280 403 Total Score 3,816,813

Club: Yankee Clipper Contest Club

It’s a great luxury to have a local multi/multi station, especially one as hospitable as K1TTT. If you live anywhere in W1, it’s worth the drive to take advantage of Dave’s open door contesting policy to see how a big station functions. It’s especially valuable because the stock operators are not only experienced but class acts to boot.

We’re looking forward to working everyone again next DX contest season!


What does a plasma TV sound like?

I’m a member of a few internet forums where the dreaded “what noise is this?” -question gets asked and I almost always link to this video. It’s one I took a few years ago of the plasma TV in my own home. It also served as a decent close-in test of my (new at the time) switchable beverage-on-ground. One direction is the beverage towards the house (EU) and the other direction is the beverage away (SW).

What kind of ham buys a plasma TV for his own home? Well, it looked the best out of all the TV’s in the store. I’ve heard real horror stories, and this video does most of them justice. I also heard, however, that the noise wouldn’t go away even when the TV was off. This is false; at least in my case, I’d turn it off during contest weekends and have no problem. Hopefully this video will help some of you diagnose your own noise source!